Truth: not everyone who starts exercising wants to lose weight or change how they look.
Between the mental and physical benefits (healthy brain, heart, lungs, joints!), the social aspect of workout buddies or groups, and the variety of activities available (zumba, trampoline cardio, rock climbing, parkour, pole dancing lessons?!), there are tons of other reasons to get active that have nothing to do with appearances.
Crazier truth: sometimes compliments about weight loss can be hurtful.
Hear me out—I’m NOT saying to never give compliments to your friend who just started running, or your brother who has become a hot yoga junkie. When they’re done right, compliments are GOLD. They feel like a mighty simultaneous fist bump from the people you love AND the universe. The thing is, when they’re done WRONG, they’re half way to insults.
It’s true, many people ARE trying to get to their idea of their best physical self. Many people who lose weight start out with this motive: if you’ve read any articles about body transformations you’re probably familiar with trope of “hitting rock bottom.” I’ve found that a really common rock bottom is someone seeing photos of themselves at a special event like a party or a wedding, and realizing they want to make a change—
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I’m saying even if the person you want to praise might really enjoy a pointed compliment about how slim they are looking, you owe them better than that. Think about what you’ve said about their value if all of your praise is purely based on how they look. What does it say about who they were before in your eyes?
A really good compliment will acknowledge their progress while empowering their further efforts. Otherwise, that’s when stuff turns into mixed signals, feels backhanded and starts to sting:
We are not numbers on scales, or pants measurements, the calories we eat in a day, or the amount we can deadlift. Reducing someone’s lifestyle change, or whatever-the-hell-they’re-calling-it to numbers or pure physicality? Not okay. These misplaced priorities are why we have self-hating fitspo and fat shamers and eating disorders.
So you have a friend, or a family member, or a significant other who has been working their literal ass off, and you want to show that you’ve recognized their effort. What do you do?
Maybe this person thinks that the best kind of praise is focused on the physical, but you can open their mind up to their own awesomeness with one simple move: praise the work of the artisan, not the art.
We live in the era of the process. We are encouraged to know the farmers who raise our crops, we watch documentaries about how things get made, we will generally pay more for craftsmanship. We want to meet Oz behind the curtain. There’s a lot of power in showing that you acknowledge their process.
In my personal experience, comments on my size are actually kind of awkward or alienating. (Though if you are going to go for physical praise consider a positive “your butt looks great!” versus the critical ring of “oooh you’re so skinny!”) Of course, this is not one-size-fits-all advice. No matter what, some people will be pleased, and some people might find it embarrassing and highly personal. You just. Don’t. Know.
There are always other words to show someone that you’ve noticed they are growing: tell someone that you’ve noticed the hard work they’ve been doing, and that you’re proud of them. If they’ve inspired you, TELL THEM THAT! If you have noticed they seem to be more positive, acknowledge this change in temperature.
They will appreciate the acknowledgment, and hopefully begin to see themselves as the glorious “MORE” that we all deserve.